by Claire Webb
As AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, noted in his introduction for the opening of “The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture,” at the Center for Architecture, landscape architecture “stands at the center of urban and political discourse of our time.” Paradoxically, he said, it’s still largely “unknown to the public.” That’s why we need to bring that under-appreciated practice to light; after all, it is such an integral part of the oft-used term urban fabric, but it’s “not understood in a dogmatic way” like buildings. This exploration of landscape design as part of the social/physical aptly fits into the AIANY’s year-long theme, “Civic Spirit: Civic Vision.”
After piquing the audience’s interest of landscape architecture, Ambassador François Barras, Consul General of Switzerland in New York, introduced us to Swiss landscape architecture. The exhibition, he said, “presented Switzerland fully rooted in the 21st century.” An exhibition of Swiss landscape architecture in New York, Barras said, is unexpected but actually quite natural – both U.S. and Swiss landscape architects focus on and value social anthropology, elegance, and precision. This newer “focus on sustainability” was another cross-cultural value that seemed particularity fertile in Switzerland and New York.
The exhibition ranges from historic Swiss architecture (largely influenced by French styles), important figures in the industry, and what firms are doing now, including the work of Bernard Tschumi, FAIA, who was present at the opening. The Laussane Jardin an international festival of urban garden design, seeks to “consider the city from different points of view.” Denizens wander through the city looking for (usually) under-appreciated installation of garden design. While many of these installations are ephemeral, some are permanent.
The Laussane Jardin event is the current manifestation of landscape appreciation that was cultivated by giants in this industry. Henry Correvan (1854 – 1939) invented the “modern alpine garden,” or places of refuge thick with flora in the city. Echoes of these points of seclusion, relief, and breath are everywhere, in every city. Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965) might be the most recognizable name; his architecture was always aware of the “sun, space, and greenery.” Ernst Cramer (1898 – 1980) was one of the first to conceptualize the garden as a separate entity, with a range of possibilities that are “artistically autonomous.”
By now, the viewers’ palates were well-prepared to chew on the new breed of Swiss landscape architecture, the “Nouvelle Vague” part of the exhibition. While the new firms certainly nodded to their rich history, the multitude and variety of their work is astonishing. Herzog & de Meuron takes a long view, nodding to Mother Nature, and confirming that theory and philosophy are fertile tenets for landscape, not just “regular” architecture: “An artificial landscape, which would understand and plan Nature – that is the plants, animals, people, but also natural forces, energy, and the recycling of waste – as an interconnected whole.” Jurg Conzett’s inspired use of engineering proves that the technical and the beautiful can mesh. His famous bridges, nestled in to landscape but sometimes defiant, too, show that “rationality and beauty are not necessarily opposing ideas.”
“The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture” is open now through 07.19.14 at the Center for Architecture.
Event: Exhibition Opening | The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.13.14
Speakers: Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, 2014 AIANY President; Ambassador François Barras, Consul General of Switzerland in New York
Organizers: Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Presence Switzerland